ALDS Preview: Rays vs. Rangers

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The Teams

Tampa Bay Rays (91-71) vs. Texas Rangers (96-66)

The Rangers won the season series 5-4, outscoring the Rays by 15 runs (41-26).

The Matchups

Game 1 Friday in Texas: Matt Moore vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 2 Saturday in Texas: James Shields vs. Derek Holland
Game 3 Monday in St. Pete: Colby Lewis vs. David Price
Game 4 (if necessary) Tuesday in St. Pete: Matt Harrison vs. Jeremy Hellickson
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday in Texas: TBD vs. C.J. Wilson

That changes everything. After sending out early indications that Jeff Niemann would start Game 1, the Rays pulled a bit of a stunner Thursday evening by saying Moore, who has just one major league start under his belt, would get the ball.  It’s a gutsy move, but it’s absolutely the right one. He has the better chance of matching up with Wilson than Niemann would. Niemann was 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA against the Rangers this season.

It remains to be seen how much good the Rays’ vaunted pitching depth will do them. Price was struggling a bit even before getting tagged for six runs in four innings by the Yankees on Wednesday. Shields hasn’t been at his best either, though one can imagine him coming back on short rest in Game 5 if he’s effective in Game 2. Hellickson, at least, looks good for Game 4.

Unlike the Rays, the Rangers had plenty of time to set their rotation for the series.  Wilson has a good chance of putting the Rays in an early hole: he had a 1.21 ERA in September and he was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three regular-season starts versus Tampa Bay.

Three questions

Will the Rangers use their best lineup?

Manager Ron Washington seems to know now that he needs Mike Napoli in there everyday, and there’s a good chance the Rangers will carry a third catcher to make it easier to use Napoli as a DH when Yorvit Torrealba is catching. Napoli, who would have finished second in the AL in OPS if he had the plate appearances to qualify, hit .407 with three homers in seven games against Tampa Bay this year.

But what about David Murphy? Murphy came through with a .351/.366/.557 month of September, and he hit .393 with a homer and eight RBI in seven games versus the Rays this year. The Rangers should want him in there against right-handers, though that means putting Josh Hamilton in center field and weakening the outfield defense some.

How will the Rangers handle playing the day games?

Of course, the games in The Trop shouldn’t matter (it’s a dome), but the Rangers hit just .265/.324/.409 in day games this year, compared to .290/.346/.481 under the lights. Josh Hamilton’s much publicized problems with the sun resulted in a .220/.302/.317 line. He hit just one homer in 123 at-bats during day games.

Will the Rays get quality bullpen work from their unused starters?

Kyle Farnsworth was effective in all four of his appearances after missing half of September with a sore elbow, so that’s one bullet dodged. He and Joel Peralta will be lined up to get the six most crucial outs when the Rays are leading late. What will be interesting to see is whether Joe Maddon gives the other key innings to holdovers Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos or if he tries to work in Davis and Niemann in big situations.

Prediction

The Rangers outscored the Rays by 148 runs this year (855-707), they have the hottest starting pitcher in the series lined up to start twice and I think they possess the edge when it comes to bullpens. Of course, part of that run disparity is the ballparks the teams play in — the Texas offense isn’t really that much better than Tampa Bay’s — and the Rays do have the advantage when it comes to defense, but the Rays’ biggest plus — the fact that they have six quality starters to bring into battle — might not do them a whole lot of good in a short series like this. I think this is the Rangers’ series to lose, and if Price doesn’t bounce back in a big way, it may well be a sweep.

RANGERS WIN THE SERIES 3-0.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Astros 4, Indians 2: Dallas Keuchel does it again. This time he tosses a complete game, allowing only two solo homers. He’s 4-0 on the season with a 1.22 ERA, keeping everything low and forcing opposing hitters to beat the ball into the ground for the most part. It’s like 2015 all over again. Scary moment, though, when Jose Altuve and Teoscar Hernandez collided while chasing a pop fly. Each left the game, but Altuve could theoretically play today. Hernandez is likely to miss some time with a leg contusion.

Cubs 1, Pirates 0: Kyle Hendricks shut out the Pirates for six innings on four hits and three relievers finished the job, allowing only one hit more. Gerrit Cole shut down the Cubs for seven innings and allowed only two hits, but a throwing error by second baseman Alen Hanson allowed the game’s lone run to score. Tough break for Cole. The Pirates have allowed more unearned runs (15) and have committed more errors (20) than any team in baseball this year.

Rays 2, Orioles 0: Erasmo Ramirez was supposed to start for the Rays, but because of the cold, rainy conditions that seemed like would lead to rain delays, manager Kevin Cash instead made it a bullpen game, running five relievers out there. Austin Pruitt started and went three innings and Chase Whitley chipped in three later in the game and was adjudged the winner by the official scorer. The results: great for Tampa Bay, as the five men combined on a two-hit shutout. This is the kind of game I fear will set a bad precedent, however. Might we one day have a dreadful future when this dynamic, combined with some new roster rules, leads to a couple of games a week when clubs consist of, essentially, 14-man pitching staffs and bullpen games become common occurrences? (shudder)

Tigers 19, Mariners 9: Or maybe I shouldn’t fear bullpen games that much? Here Felix Hernandez was chased after two innings in which he allowed four runs on six hits — the team would later say he’s suffering from dead arm — turning this into a defacto bullpen game. The bullpen . . . was lacking. Detroit beat the tar out of ’em, piling up 24 hits, despite Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias‘s absences. The Tigers bullpen wasn’t great, even with a commanding lead, yielding four runs in three innings of work. In all the teams combined for 40 hits and 14 walks in a nine inning game that went three hours and forty-three minutes. Ugly.

Brewers 9, Reds 1: Eric Thames homered again — his 11th of the year, eight of which have come against the Reds — but the game was well out of hand by then. Zach Davies tossed five shutout innings. Hernan Perez hit two RBI triples and a homer while Jonathan Villar hit two two-run singles.

Twins 8, Rangers 1: A seven run fifth inning made this one a laugher. Ervin Santana, Major League Baseball’s current ERA leader, allowed one run, four hits and one walk while striking out six in seven innings. Miguel Sano hit a 424-foot homer in the fifth and, later that same inning, singled in another run.

White Sox 10, Royals 5: The Chisox post double digits on the Royals for the second straight night. Todd Frazier had two doubles and drove in three. Leury Garcia and Omar Narvaez each knocked in a couple. Kansas City has dropped six straight and are off to their worst start since 2012. I guess the Royals Renaissance is no more.

Blue Jays 6, Cardinals 5: We talked about this at length already, but boy howdy, do we need to see it again:

That’s the sort of thing a guy writing a baseball movie would put in the script only to have it cut out later by the director because it’s too unrealistic.

Just as impressive, even if it wasn’t as visually spectacular, was Marcus Stroman, who wasn’t even supposed to be working yesterday, pinch-hitting in the 11th inning, knocking a double for his first big league hit, and coming around to score the go-ahead and, ultimately, winning run.

Nationals 15, Rockies 12: Trea Turner hit for the cycle, knocking a single in the first, a two-run double in the second, a two-run homer in the sixth and a bases-loaded triple in the seventh, driving in seven runs in all. But it wasn’t just him, as Coors Field featured Pitchers Need Not Apply Night. These two combined for 27 runs on 29 hits and eight walks, given up by a combined 11 pitchers. All on a cold night, too.

Diamondbacks 9, Padres 3: Paul Goldschmidt had four hits, a dinger included, and drove in three. He’s driven in at least two runs in four straight games. Chris Owings drove in three and Daniel Descalso hit a solo homer. The Dbacks are 14-8, with a 10-2 record at Chase Field.

Angels 2, Athletics 1: Traffic can be rough in Orange County, but you could’ve showed up over two hours late for this one and not missed any scoring, as it was tied at zero for nine innings. Josh Phegley hit a pinch-hit homer for Oakland in the top of the 10th, Mike Trout countered with a solo shot of his own in the bottom half and then Kole Calhoun walked ’em off with an RBI single in the bottom of the 11th off of Ryan Madson. Lost in all of this were excellent performances from the A’s Jesse Hahn, who allowed only one hit over eight shutout innings, and the Angels JC Ramirez, who allowed only two hits over seven. So, no, you maybe didn’t want to miss the first couple hours of this one. Pitching rules.

Dodgers 2, Giants 1: Clayton Kershaw certainly rules. The ace of aces allowed one run while scattering six hits over seven innings while striking out seven. All this on a night when he didn’t have his best stuff and had a wrapped up leg after being hit by a pitch early in the game. The Dodgers snapped a six-game losing streak in AT&T Park.

Marlins vs. Phillies; Yankees vs. Red Sox; Braves vs. Mets — POSTPONED:

Last time I was here, it was rainin’
It ain’t raining anymore
The streets were drowned, and the water’s waning
All the runes washed to shore
Now I’m here lookin’ through the rubble
Tryin’ to find out who we were
Last time I was here, it was rainin’
Ain’t rainin’ anymore

Felix Hernandez dealing with “dead arm”

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Mariners starter Felix Hernandez is dealing with “dead arm” and will head back to Seattle to have his shoulder examined, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. Hernandez was reportedly visibly upset and left the clubhouse quickly, declining to speak to the media, Divish adds.

Hernandez wasn’t long for Tuesday’s game against the Tigers, as he lasted just two innings, yielding four runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts. The Mariners went on to lose 19-9. Hernandez is now carrying a 4.73 ERA over his first five starts.

Not much else can go wrong for the Mariners, who are now 8-13 in last place in the AL West. Mitch Haniger also suffered an oblique injury on Tuesday, joining what is becoming a lengthy list of dinged-up Mariners.